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ALMOST HOME has suspense:


He’s here. Relief flowed over me. Jonathan Starr was only a few yards away. Ashley Styles helped carry my bags to the waiting black Dodge Durango. She motioned for the driver to stay put and flip the rear door hatch so we could load my luggage. The plan was to make sure the guy in the Civic didn’t get a good look at the Durango’s driver. We knew there would come a time when the two would be in close proximity to each other and it was important he not recognize Jon as a threat until it was too late. We made a scene of hugging each other before I moved into the SUV’s back seat.

       Jon’s eyes caught mine in the mirror’s reflection.

       “You okay?” he asked.

       “I am now.”

       “Is everything settled with the Faulconers?”

       “Yes. I talked with Dylan on the way from Dayton. The cover story is in play.”

       Jon put the Durango in gear and drove away from the curb.

       “Shellie, go to the settings on your personal phone right now and mute all sounds. Set notifications to vibrate. Let all calls go to voicemail, including Daniel and Paula. If at all possible, wait to call them back in the morning. If you have to call them tonight, only do so in a place free of background noise.”

       “Done,” I said after following his instructions.”

       “Open the console. You will find two items. A box and a cloth bag. Both contain what look like cell phones. Open the box.” He paused while I did so. “This is your burner phone. Notice it is gray in color. I have one just like it. My number is programmed into yours and vice versa. These phones will be our only form of communication until this thing is over. Settings are on vibration only. You will have time to get familiar with it later.”

       “I won’t need to. It’s just like my back-up phone at home.”

        “Good. Now, open the bag. You are looking at a black, 12-million-volt stun gun. It is different in color from the real phone so as not to confuse the two. Notice the two metal prongs at the top. To use the stun gun, turn the safety switch to the on position, press the prongs on an assailant while holding down the trigger button on the side. Look it over.” Again, I did as Jon directed. He continued after a few seconds. “Now, holding it away from you and making sure your fingers are two inches from the prongs, press the trigger for half a second to practice discharging the current.” A white arc shot out. “There is a charger in the carrying bag should you need it.”

       “Jon, you said earlier Tess, Dylan, and Vanessa were safe. Were they; are they in danger?”

       “Your suspicions were correct about Ms. Callan. She is also being followed. There is an operative on the scene. The Faulconers are in the clear, including their home.”

       “Jon, I’m so sorry about all this, but I just didn’t know what else to do. It started out so innocently and now people could end up getting hurt.”

       “Shellie, whoever these people are, whatever problem they have with you, you need to understand they are not professionals. They are easy to spot. They are definitely not a part of any network. If they were, other members would take over from time to time to avoid being made. There are only two that we know of right now. The problem with amateurs is they don’t know how to handle themselves when confronted. They panic and when they do, anything can happen. Make no mistake, there will be a come-to-Jesus meeting, but the time and place will be of my choosing.”

       “All I wanted to do was reconnect with a friend from fifty years ago. That’s all.”

       “Shellie, you couldn’t have anticipated this.”

       “Oh, Jon, I knew something was amiss. There were clues. Paper trails drying up. People telling lies. Paula warned me, but I kept on trucking. I should have let it drop, but a part of me was worried for Lesa. Is she in trouble? And if she is, what kind of trouble lasts for half a century?”

       “You may never find out.”

       “I just wished I had never involved others in this mess.”

       “Spilt milk, Shellie.”

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